Post-COVID Urbanism Discussion

Arlington

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I hope I can link a recent Vox/Weeds podcast that artfully outlined “what changed about cities”

The best insight is that Zoom has diminished the relative value and urgency of “transacting at the nexus” and that cities (NY & DC, Silicon Valley ) that previously had insisted “you must be here to get the best deal* done right” have all lost some of their monopoly power to be “the only place to be”

*best deal == of whatever type the particular nexus promised to be best at.

And this was the economic/production claim that “the city” made as a national/global/regional transaction center—zoom has widened the definition of what it means to be “in” the center—can Red Bank now count (on most days) as close enough to Wall Street to get the “nexus” advantages.

note: the “zoom instead of being at the nexus” is a worker productivity claim, not the personal/consumption claim (that people will devote more of their wealth to live close to long-tail experiences in the arts or culture)

My conclusion would be that the center has lost its centrality in a series of 10% losses:

10% to 20% of “monthly FaceTime” trips won’t happen physically—the center will no longer be physical host for either fewer meetings or fewer participants

10% to 20% of FaceTime trips will happen from farther out in the hinterlands (“from my house on the Cape”).

10% to 20% of what had been “weekday commuting” will be recast as “business travel”
 

Arlington

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Boston, with its labs and hospitals, has a strong portfolio of “must be at the nexus”

Whereas NYC and Silicon Valley were about pure “you gotta be here because I had to be here” —that is just not as plausible as it once was
 

bigpicture7

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Boston, with its labs and hospitals, has a strong portfolio of “must be at the nexus”

Whereas NYC and Silicon Valley were about pure “you gotta be here because I had to be here” —that is just not as plausible as it once was
These are interesting insights and hypotheses. I agree that Boston will benefit from having an outsized proportion of "must be at the nexus" activity compared to other cities (though I would add certain components of Higher Ed & Research to the must-be-at-nexus-list for Boston).

At first glance, most of this is intuitive to me. But I feel like there are categories beyond must-be-at-nexsus and you-gotta-be-here-because-I-had-to-be-here (though I agree with those two and the projected trends). With regard to the latter, I agree that the value of certain "rites of passage" and "prestigiousness of doing things in a particular way because that's how impressive things were done before" will decline as people can prove those things can be done other ways very effectively.

The missing category, in my mind, is what I'll call "very complex, very collaborative" work that, technically and logically can be done without co-location, but, over time, suffers in a sense-able way. I've worked on complex systems as an engineer where experts across disciplines needed to work together on never-done-before things: here, trust and relationships and openness really mattered. If we got too distanced, we started losing trust that everyone was coming from a good place with team-oriented motives. This is very different from doing work that is commoditized or already well-established and modularized (for instance: I have no desire to see my accountant...in that case, please just get it done and let me know when it's done). Whereas, when working on really challenging innovative stuff, it can in fact be so personal. I can recall many times when "let's go grab coffee" has stemmed from feelings of "why the hell is he really making us use that power supply?"

It's hard to put to words, but my gut tells me that really complex/innovative/collaborative work will continue to draw people together.
 
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Arlington

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MIT’s fusion reactor projects are a great example of “must be On the team and in the room” Obviously it is the kind of cross disciplinary cutting edge innovation it happens in small teams in person.

My concern is that media fame around device innnovation tends overstate the employment impacts on a metro area. I am sure Volpe smart transportation work is also kick ass and Has to be done in person. All will be the stuff of song and legend the question is whether it will also be the stuff of an urban economy.
 

bigpicture7

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MIT’s fusion reactor projects are a great example of “must be On the team and in the room” Obviously it is the kind of cross disciplinary cutting edge innovation it happens in small teams in person.

My concern is that media fame around device innnovation tends overstate the employment impacts on a metro area. I am sure Volpe smart transportation work is also kick ass and Has to be done in person. All will be the stuff of song and legend the question is whether it will also be the stuff of an urban economy.
I think you are onto something here. The work that has "media fame" and the actual work needing to get done are two different things. Certain types of work and workers have an outsized media fame relative to their enduring importance, actual headcount and actual future demand. For instance, when Twitter says its workers can work from home, how much does that really matter? Twitter doesn't even have that big of a workforce. Don't get me wrong, I believe some jobs can be done from pretty much anywhere (I'm not arguing against that specifically). However, I do believe we are wasting a lot of technical horsepower (and associated media blathering) right now on market bubble-esque cloud software app and other commoditized or near-commoditized SW work (much of which will end up overseas anyways). Eventually the bill will come due in U.S. society for more high-impact, cutting edge technical work in the areas of energy, transportation, biomedicine, and others. That "very complex, very collaborative" work requires more of an in-person presence. So I think it's a matter of which cities are best positioned to take that on.
 
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maxdatabook

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When I was younger, you either had someone or you didn't. No one wanted to be alone. It was a trope until recently, dying alone. Are internet social networks enough to replace physical relationships, or the need for one? I remember staying up to midnight as young teenages to watch the PBS Nana where it was said there would be a nude scene. There was, 5 seconds of a naked breast (as if I could see it on the low resolution TVs of that day). For most of history, the older you became the more you saw. Today, people see everything the moment they look at a computer screen, no matter what the age. This is a problem I have with my kids. I see a timeline; they don't. It's all immediate. Architecturally, all steel, glass, plastic and bare. Perhaps that is the same for every generation.

Can cities thrive in the future, disconnected from history, from tradition? I can see it if social networks and drugs are enough for humans. I come back to this poem by Yates, over and over again. Written at a similar time in history when technology had obliterated the old lifestyle. If the poem remains true, we will see violence, war and famine as bad as any in history. Whether cities or thrive or not will be hardly worth thinking about.

Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
 

jklo

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With most of the restrictions in the state being lifted on May 29th we'll find out pretty quickly how eager employers are to bring employees back into the office.
 

micklepaler

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Interesting question for software development industry with https://mlsdev.com/services/custom-software-development. There are a number of advantages in using custom software development. These benefits include: * The use of IT specialists reduces the cost involved in developing software products. For instance, some software development companies to offer custom software development solutions that include a complete toolbox of marketing and management tools such as CRM, lead management, analytical software, web analytics, web programming language, database integration, and more.
 
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